Volume 96, Issue 13
Thursday September 19, 2002

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Sorry Cory Cross - you're cut

Ryan Dixon
Managing Editor

Like so many recent university graduates, Cory Cross has got to be a little worried about his job prospects for the coming year.

The lead footed Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman can't be too optimistic he will be playing in the National Hockey League for too long, once the new anti-obstruction rules are enforced.

The key to pushing players like Cross – and many other defenceman who have been posing as bona fide NHL players with actual talent out of the league and into the unemployment line – will be making sure that this time around, the crackdown on obstruction is enforced and not just talked about.

Hooking, holding and grabbing have become the default move of any lumbering defenceman who gets beat by a speedier player. League commissioner Gary Betman has long spewed rhetoric about opening up the game for the more skilled players, but to this point, the idea has developed as much as Jaromir Jagr's defensive game.

So what is Betman going to do to make sure the rules stick this time? Maybe the league should implement a plan to test the skating, passing and shooting skills of every player in the league – sort of like hockey's version of standardized testing.

Those players who make the grade will be allowed to play in the league. Those who fail the test will be given two options: go back to Saskatchewan and pray for rain or stay in the league on the condition that you replace your normal hockey stick with one of those novelty mini-sticks. That should make hooking players that deserve to be in the league a much less viable option.

If the new rules are going to be enforced, it is going to mean a lot of penalties, which will also mean a lot of bitching from fans who take their cues from Don Cherry. The Cherry crowd would claim constant penalties take as much away from the game as the obstruction itself.

However, if the calls are made consistently across the board, sooner or later players will have no choice but to find alternative tactics to defend – like, say, improving their skating.

I for one am prepared to endure the referees being the stars of the show for a few months if it means by January I get to see hockey that resembles the free flowing games fans were treated to before a diluted talent pool forced teams everywhere to implement the neutral zone trap.

There will always be a place for players with less than Gretzky-like talent in the league. Hard-nosed defencemen who play with an edge like Greg de Vries, Derek Morris and Jason Smith can be forgiven for the occasional rule infarction. Their penalties often result from an abundance of competitiveness, not a lack of competence.

If Betman sticks to his guns and this round of talks about opening up the game translates into action, it could mean good things for the NHL and bad things for players who can't skate.

Maybe Alexandre Daigle picked the right year to make a comeback.


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